Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Morning Reading: Jayne Anne Phillips

The work of Jayne Anne Phillips has always meant a lot to me - I still have that blue and black paperback of Black Tickets and a rare small press edition of Sweethearts, her first collection, published in 1976 and sold for $2.95.

She's got a new novel out, Lark and Termite, and Michiko Kakutani was all over it this morning in the New York Times. She writes:

As her evocation of the fevered experience of drugs and sex in her early stories first demonstrated, Ms. Phillips creates characters with an intensely sensual apprehension of the world, and in these pages she conveys their experiences with a visceral immediacy... Repeated images and leitmotifs link these people’s stories together, lending the novel a haunting musical quality, even as they suggest the unconscious, almost magical bonds shared by people who are connected by blood or love or memory...Using one of her favorite narrative techniques Ms. Phillips tells these characters’ stories from alternating points of view...but in each case Ms. Phillips communicates their experience with enormous urgency, using a sort of electric stream-of-consciousness prose that owes debts in equal measures to Kerouac’s “On the Road” and Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse.” Whereas her writing can sometimes sound self-consciously literary — as though she were showing off what acrobatics she can make words perform — she puts her verbal fluency here at the service of her characters’ stories, illustrating them with scenes that burn like cinematic images, complete with soundtracks, in our minds.
To read the rest, click here.

To flashback, a short story from Black Tickets, what we'd call sudden fiction or micro fiction now:

Solo Dance

She hadn't been home in a long time. Her father had a cancer operation; she went home. She went to the hospital every other day, sitting for hours beside his bed. She could see him flickering. He was very thin and the skin on his legs was soft and pure like fine paper. She remembered him saying ‘I give up’ when he was angry or exasperated. Sometimes he said it as a joke, ‘Jesus Christ, I give up.’ She kept hearing his voice in the words now even though he wasn't saying them. She read his get-well cards aloud to him. One was from her mother's relatives. Well, he said, I don't think they had anything to do with it. He was speaking of his divorce two years before.

She put lather in a hospital cup and he got up to shave in the mirror. He had to lean on the sink. She combed the back of his head with water and her fingers. His hair was long after six weeks in the hospital, a gray-silver full of shadow and smudge. She helped him get slowly into bed and he lay against the pillows breathing heavily. She sat down again. I can't wait till I get some weight on me, he said, So I can knock down that son-of-a-bitch lawyer right in front of the courthouse.

She sat watching her father. His robe was patterned with tiny horses, sorrels in arabesques. When she was very young, she had started ballet lessons. At the first class her teacher raised her leg until her foot was flat against the wall beside her head. He held it there and looked at her. She looked back at him, thinking to herself it didn't hurt and willing her eyes dry.

Her father was twisting his hands. How's your mother? She must be half crazy by now. She wanted to be by herself and brother that's what she got.


It still works for me.

Finally, here's a link to a recent interview with Phillips in the online journal, The Short Review. It's short. Click here.


Robbi said...

Me too. I love the foot against the wall; reminds me of my yoga class.

Erica said...

Her writing has had such an influence on me...

Reviewed in today's NYT too.

Rebel Girl said...

yeah, I just love her---

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